Title: Sonik Kicks
Tell me more: Has he still got the fire in his belly? Was the magnificent Wake Up the Nation a last hurrah?
The Lowdown: In a 21-year solo career, Weller has never dwelled on the successes; every album is a new adventure, and to be truthful, some have needed to be to make amends for a lapse in judgment. Such an accusation can’t be levelled at Sonik Kicks, a glorious ride through rock and electronica’s magnificent history. Dragonfly soars like Goldfrapp with the scent of sci-fi wafting throughout. Around the Lake is a course, bitter fruit, with drumbeats and screechy effects mingling with guitars-a-plenty. Krautrockers Neu! are an influence on this record – Kling I Klang is the most obvious reference point – but Drifters has a flamenco touch, Paperchase has ‘a slight Blur feel to it’ says Weller himself and it’s hard to disagree. And while all this sounds mesmerisingly dynamic, the finale, Be Happy Children, is a beautiful ballad which features his own kids. Like Bowie he is a living legend but like The Grand Dame, he has that innate ability to change and move in a new direction, without sounding like a bandwagon hopper.
Label: Rough Trade/ Rhythmethod
Tell me more: Siblings are common in bands, but fathers and sons in the same group are far less so: in the Jets case it was Henry (dad) and Blaine. The Jets had a very promising start releasing excellent period piece singles like On My Feet and You Can’t Fool Me Dennis, from 2005 which formed part of the following year’s excellent Making Dens album.
The Lowdown: If truth be told, the Mystery Jets have hit some turbulence since then, Serotonin – released in 2010 – was remarkable for its insipidness. I have hopes that Radlands will be a return to form but, alas I’m unable to say that. For a start the cover has the band within a map of Texas, which reflects the recording location, but looks like a corny country or MOR album from 1975. They arrived in Austin for the recording process only with guitars, and borrowed “all this amazing valve gear from an old guy called Jack,” but Radlands still sounds contrived. This isn’t the same band who created Making Dens, this is a four-piece who’ve matured, and the joyful pop sounds have dissipated. A shame as there is a majestic break-up song about who takes what from the record collection. Greatest Hits namechecks Paul McCartney and Mark E.Smith and Blaine Harrison tells his spurned lover: “You can take the Lexicon of Love but I’m keeping Remain In Light”. Hale Bop is cringeworthy but would go down a storm in a rural bar where they have both types of music: country AND western.
Title: Boys & Girls
Label: Rough Trade
Tell me more: Gaining some attention in their native USA and beyond, the Shakes are three guys and one girl, vocalist/ guitarist Brittany Howard.
The Lowdown: Much of the publicity for one of the band’s gigs in London this year was due to the presence of Russell Crowe who is either an Aussie or a Kiwi depending on his behaviour. I don’t know anything about his taste in music but he isn’t exactly an expert on new music. And therein lies the problem with a A-List celeb endorsements: they know little more than me or you. Crowe and everyone else in the sweaty venue may have loved the Shakes that night, but alas, I find it hard to get remotely excited by this record. Howard overdoes it, coming across as a new Joss Stone, while the band do their best with the material they have at hand. Overwhelmingly disappointing but they are trying too hard to sound like other people.
Who: The Heartbreaks
Tell me more: Edwyn Collins is one of the producers on this debut album by a bunch from the seen-better-days English resort town of Morecambe. They are supporting Morrissey soon.
The Lowdown: If what some people wrote were to be true, The Heartbreaks are the new James or Libertines. They are neither of course, but such attempts of hyperbole reek of smoke and mirrors, or just simply becoming carried away.
Funtimes is jaunty, effervescent and joyful, while referencing the decline of the great British seaside resort. You can imagine they spent their pre-teen years on the coconut shy and ungainly wrapping their right arm around a girl, “I’ll be waiting outside the Winter Gardens, feeling slightly worse for wear; if talk of romance thrills you, honey, maybe I’ll see you there?” sings Matthew Whitehouse on Winter Gardens.
Collins’ influence is noticeable on Remorseful but not overly so. Standard indie guitars abound and it reminds me Tom Allalone and the 78s, who promised more than they actually delivered but the vigour, passion and northern Englishness of Funtimes is winning me over with each listen.
Tell me more: Anyone who names themselves after a Nancy Sinatra/ Lee Hazelwood song needs more investigation. The morning is Des Lambert, the velvet is Rob Flanagan and the some is Gavin Lambert who hail from London. Porky hasn’t sniffed them before but they have released several singles and an album since 2006.
The Lowdown: It’s telling that Chris Potter, who has worked with Verve and U2, is involved. Des Lambert wants to be both Bono and Richard Ashcroft at the same time, with a dash of early Coldplay and perhaps the Cure. That sounds like an impressive roll-call, but it is a little deceiving. Black and white artwork and band photos and a track with a German title (Unterbrechen) makes them seem dark and mysterious. But musically they’re fairly one-dimensional. It is one of those albums that’s both rewarding and frustrating. One the one hand there’s some epic soundscapes like the single How To Start a Revolution that make you feel like reaching for the sky and shouting the lyrics. But the frustrating side is that they aim for that orgasmic feeling at every opportunity, and, like Usain Bolt, you can’t run a world record in every race.
Anything else: MyMajorCompany operate by crowd funding, a way of raising money to be able to raise the capital for an album, and SVM raised £100,000 in this way.